Property owner surprised when utility crew digs up his yard

OREGON CITY, Ore. - John Huszar owns a rental house. On day he went over to talk to the renters, but to his surprise he found a construction crew installing large utility boxes on the lawn.

The new installation now takes up a large chunk of his yard.

"I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe it," he said.

The crew was digging out the grass and replacing it with bark dust and three large utility boxes, taking over space about the size of an average living room.

"I asked the contractor, 'What are you guys doing? What gives you the right to do this?'" Huszar said.

It turns out the original developer in the 1970s gave away easements for utilities and the public right of way, adding up to 20 feet along the front edge of Huszar's property.

Huszar wants the utility company, CenturyLink, to block the view of the boxes with a fence or shrubs and to pay him for the use of his land.

"I call it the equivalent of an industrial complex in my front yard," he said.

CenturyLink said it is working to beautify and block the boxes at its expense. But it is not its policy for easements to compensate a property owner. It also says it does not have to notify owners when it is going to install the boxes.

"That means you could, in theory, erect equipment like this all the way down my front yard, and there's nothing I could do about it," Huszar said.

He knew about an easement but thought it meant for underground utilities.

A land-use attorney says easements for utilities are very common. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, property owners should check their property map with their county.

CenturyLink says it did give information to the renters in Huszar's house to give to him, but they did not pass it on.

Utility companies are building more infrastructure like utility boxes as they feed the need for high-speed Internet connections.